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Hopkins Academy plans 350th birthday for 2014 in Hadley

  • Hopkins Academy 350th celebration volunteers Bernadette Wyman, right, of Greenfield and Louise Olbris of Southampton pose by their former lockers at the Hadley school on Friday. <br/>KEVIN GUTTING

    Hopkins Academy 350th celebration volunteers Bernadette Wyman, right, of Greenfield and Louise Olbris of Southampton pose by their former lockers at the Hadley school on Friday.
    KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »

  • Hopkins Academy 350th celebration volunteers Bernadette Wyman, left, of Greenfield, and Louise Olbris of Southampton, stand outside their alma mater in Hadley.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING

    Hopkins Academy 350th celebration volunteers Bernadette Wyman, left, of Greenfield, and Louise Olbris of Southampton, stand outside their alma mater in Hadley.
    KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »

  • The Hopkins Academy crest, in the hallway of the Hadley school, bears the motto, "Palmam qui meruit ferat", or loosely, "Let whoever earns the palm bear it."<br/>KEVIN GUTTING

    The Hopkins Academy crest, in the hallway of the Hadley school, bears the motto, "Palmam qui meruit ferat", or loosely, "Let whoever earns the palm bear it."
    KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »

  • In 1909 Hopkins Academy was in the renovated home of Franklin Bonney on Russell Street. It was on the land where the school is now located in a building constructed in 1954.

    In 1909 Hopkins Academy was in the renovated home of Franklin Bonney on Russell Street. It was on the land where the school is now located in a building constructed in 1954. Purchase photo reprints »

  • Hopkins' alumni Bernadette Wyman, right, of Greenfield and Louise Olbris of Southampton, who are helping to plan the school's 350th birthday celebration stand by their former lockers at the Hadley school.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING

    Hopkins' alumni Bernadette Wyman, right, of Greenfield and Louise Olbris of Southampton, who are helping to plan the school's 350th birthday celebration stand by their former lockers at the Hadley school.
    KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »

  • Hopkins Academy 350th celebration volunteers Bernadette Wyman, left, of Greenfield and Louise Olbris of Southampton stand by the crest of their alma mater in the hall of the Hadley schoo. It bears the motto, "Palmam qui meruit ferat", or loosely, "Let whoever earns the palm bear it."KEVIN GUTTING

    Hopkins Academy 350th celebration volunteers Bernadette Wyman, left, of Greenfield and Louise Olbris of Southampton stand by the crest of their alma mater in the hall of the Hadley schoo. It bears the motto, "Palmam qui meruit ferat", or loosely, "Let whoever earns the palm bear it."KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »

  • Hopkins Academy 350th celebration volunteers Bernadette Wyman, right, of Greenfield and Louise Olbris of Southampton pose by their former lockers at the Hadley school on Friday. <br/>KEVIN GUTTING
  • Hopkins Academy 350th celebration volunteers Bernadette Wyman, left, of Greenfield, and Louise Olbris of Southampton, stand outside their alma mater in Hadley.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING
  • The Hopkins Academy crest, in the hallway of the Hadley school, bears the motto, "Palmam qui meruit ferat", or loosely, "Let whoever earns the palm bear it."<br/>KEVIN GUTTING
  • In 1909 Hopkins Academy was in the renovated home of Franklin Bonney on Russell Street. It was on the land where the school is now located in a building constructed in 1954.
  • Hopkins' alumni Bernadette Wyman, right, of Greenfield and Louise Olbris of Southampton, who are helping to plan the school's 350th birthday celebration stand by their former lockers at the Hadley school.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING
  • Hopkins Academy 350th celebration volunteers Bernadette Wyman, left, of Greenfield and Louise Olbris of Southampton stand by the crest of their alma mater in the hall of the Hadley schoo. It bears the motto, "Palmam qui meruit ferat", or loosely, "Let whoever earns the palm bear it."KEVIN GUTTING

HADLEY — In 1664, there were no European settlements between Deerfield and Montreal. The United States’s declaration of independence was still more than a century away. And yet Hopkins Academy had opened its doors to educate young men planning to enter into the ministry or teach.

The school, one of the oldest — and smallest — in the state, turns 350 in 2014 and already a dedicated group of a dozen volunteers is planning the celebration, which will take place throughout the course of the next school year.

On a recent Thursday night, they filed into the home-economics room at Hopkins Academy to get to work. Their to-do list was long.

What kind of floats should be included in the parade? How about souvenirs? What about placing a sculpture of a commemorative golden hawk in the front of the school? Above all, how are they going to raise money for it all?

The volunteers were young and old. Some graduated from Hopkins a half-century ago and have since moved out of town. Others finished high school just a few years ago and still live here. Others went from being students to teachers at the school.

Yet all are united by the bonds that form when the student body is just over 300 and many met as kindergarters and remain classmates through high school.

“In Hadley everyone had to get up early to pick asparagus, everyone has a lot in common,” said volunteer Louise Olbris. “The nice thing about a small town, when you go to a reunion you know everyone.”

Olbris, 70, now lives in Southampton. She’s a member of the Hopkins Academy 350th Celebration Committee.

Matt Kushi, 24, who graduated in 2006, is another member. He hails from a long line of Hopkins graduates — both his father and grandfather matriculated from the school. He said a desire to give back to the community that raised him prompted him to join the committee.

“Making people aware of the history helps enhance people’s appreciation for the mission of the school,” he said.

A frontier school

Hopkins Academy is the fifth-oldest secondary school in Massachusetts and among the oldest in the country.

The school is named for a man who never visited Hadley. In fact, he never even knew the school that bore his name existed.

Edward Hopkins was a wealthy merchant and a seven-time governor of the Colony of Connecticut. He died in London in 1657, seven years before Hopkins Academy was founded.

But before his death, Hopkins established a trust intended to help bolster education in the growing colonies. Initially, those plans were largely centered around Connecticut. But that changed after one of the trustees charged with carrying out Hopkins’ will left Connecticut for Hadley, and opened a school here, according to a history compiled for the school’s tercentenary anniversary in 1964.

Still, Hopkins was in the middle of a relative wilderness at the time of its founding.

“It was frontier,” said Fred Luddy, an Amherst resident who taught history at Hopkins in the 1950s. Another century would pass before the United States declared its independence.

“It has always dazzled me that you had this school 100 years before those events occurred,” Luddy said.

In its early years, Hopkins taught only boys who came from Hadley and places all along the Eastern Seaboard. They paid tuition to attend. In fact, Hadley students were a minority. In 1827, only 37 of Hopkins’ 140 students came from town, according to Margaret Dwyer’s extensive 1964 history of the school. Students from afar boarded with area families.

Dwyer’s research does not offer a definitive date when female students began attending Hopkins. But she does note that by 1817 the school had a policy of offering admission to both boys and girls, provided they had some ability to read and write.

The school was operated for many years with funds from the trust, tuition and a small appopriation from the town. The relationship between school and town was long and complicated, according to Dwyer. As more and more towns began to build and maintain public schools, Hadley put increasing pressure on Hopkins’ trustees to hand over control of the academy.

But for many years the trustees resisted until competition in the field of education ultimately forced their hand, she noted. An increasing number of private schools, preparing students for a university education, were drawing a greater number of students at the same time more public schools were coming into existence.

So in 1863 Hopkins’s trustees voted to waive tuition for all Hadley residents and allow them to attend the school if they they could pass an entrance exam, Dwyer wrote. The shift to a full-fledged public school was completed in 1902, when the trustees agreed to turn over administration of Hopkins to the town school committee.

The Hopkins’ trust and trustees remain in place, however. Today, they donate money annually to help pay for scholarships and fund other school needs. The history compiled for the tercentenary anniversary of the school called the trust the oldest continually operated chartitable trust in the United States.

The school has produced some distinguished graduates. Among them: the first president of Smith College, Laurenus Clark Seelye; a noted Civil War general, Joseph Hooker; and artist Elbridge Kingsley.

It also boasts a proud athletic tradition. People here still talk of the 1954-1956 basketball team that won 42 consecutive games and of the Zieja brothers, Mike and Steve, who lifted the Golden Hawks to the state title game in 1999 only to lose by two points to a team that was later judged to have fielded ineligible players.

Its music program is nationally renowned and a point of pride among Hadley residents. Last year the jazz band won first place at Festival Disney in Orlando, Fla.

The tight-knit town strongly supports it students, filling the gymnasium and bleachers to cheer on its sports teams, but also packing the room for concerts and other events.

Edward Forman, who won widespread acclaim as the school’s music director during his 33 years at Hopkins, recently recalled a performance at Festival Disney in 2010.

A judge looking out at the 100 or so fans who made the trip with the band to Orlando inquired about what type of town Hadley was, Forman remembered in a May interview prior to his retirement. He replied that it was a small place. The surprised judge asked, “Is there anyone left in town?”

And then there are the academics. Routinely producing high test scores, the school received a silver rating from U.S. News and World report earlier this year, ranking Hopkins 560 out of 22,000 schools evaluated nationwide.

All that contributes to the sense of pride among the volunteers planning the coming celebration and they are enjoying reveling in the memories.

Olbris, for instance, graduated in 1960. Hers was the first class to attend grades 7 through 12 in Hopkins’ current building at 131 Russell St. It opened in 1954. Prior to that time the school was located in a variety of buildings including the old Russell School.

Olbris remembers how exciting it was to attend school in a brand new building. But the building didn’t have a cafeteria or gym then, she recalled. There was an old gymnasium next door, which was torn down in 2010. And students crossed Route 9 every day to have lunch in the cafeteria at the Hooker School.

“Route 9 wasn’t as bad back then,” Olbris said. “There was a policeman there helping the kids across.”

An addition which included a cafeteria and gym was completed in 1965.

Bernadette Wyman, 70, of Greenfield, also graduated 1960.

“I was scared to death coming in there as a new student in the ninth grade,” Wyman recalled, having previously attended St. Michael’s School in Northampton.

That didn’t last long as Wyman quickly integrated into the close school community, she said.

Today, she is president of the Hopkins Academy Alumni Association. She said an awe of Hopkins’ 350-year-tradition helped spur her to form a celebration committee.

“I think its a wonderful milestone,” she said. “It’s not something people do every day, see every day. It’s a community effort.”

It was a shared love of history that ultimately helped Wyman convince Joe Pelis, a 1959 graduate of Hopkins, to chair the 350th committee.

He recalled the school’s strong athletic history, noting the intense rivalry with Hatfield’s Smith Academy. During the 1954-1956 basketball team’s long winning streak, “You had to get to the old courts by 4:30 in the afternoon to get a seat,” he said.

Ironically Pelis and his wife, Judy, a 1963 graduate of Hopkins and a 350th committee member, found themselves on the other side years later when the couple moved to Hatfield.

“Our two boys played sports for Smith Academy,” Pelis said. “We developed a whole new family rivalry (with relatives in Hadley). When the holidays rolled around there was a lot to talk about.”

But his efforts now are largely focused on planning a year-long celebration.

Topping his list: raising money for a sculpture of a golden hawk to be placed in front of the school.

The committee plans to auction off bricks with the names of graduates or families for $100 each to pay for the sculpture, he said. The bricks will line a walkway ringing the sculpture. The proposal still must be approved by the Select Board and the committee has yet to determine the price, he noted. Early estimates peg it at somewhere between $16,000 and $20,000. Counting the sculpture, parade and a host of other events, Pelis thinks the committee will need to raise $50,000.

He said members would be looking to the Hopkins Trustees, Hadley Mother’s Club, the Alumni Association, community members and businesses to help the effort.

Those interested in volunteering to help plan the celebration can call Pelis at 244-2036 or email him at jppelis@yahoo.com. Donations to the committee can be made out to 350th of Hopkins Academy, Attention: Robert Fil, 64 South Street, Unit 1, Easthampton, Ma., 01027.

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